What is the role of a course manager?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 13, 2011 16:11

What is the role of a course manager?

A good course manager runs his / her business as if it’s their own, while ensuring that the golfers have an enjoyable experience. Easier said than done perhaps, since the course manager has the delicate task of balancing sound agronomics with playability and customers’ expectations, while at the same time adhering to any budgetary constraints. In simple terms, management is all about the following:

• Organising people and work

• Planning  work activities and programmes

• Budgeting  costs and controlling expenditures

• Communicating with staff, employers, the trade and so on.

When this is carried out successfully, business objectives are more likely to be achieved while golfers enjoy playing on consistently good playing surfaces. Course managers generally have good agronomy and practical skills but growing and maintaining quality turf is only one aspect of successfully managing a golf course. A successful course manager requires a number of management skills and a working knowledge of these to be a competent manager.  Adverts placed by golf clubs for hiring course managers tend to focus on key management skills of leadership, motivation, budgeting, communication and work planning while also listing the implementation of health and safety and providing excellent course condition and presentation. Relevant qualifications and experience are other essential requirements, while some adverts also list other requirements such as computer and IT skills, a working knowledge of irrigation systems, the maintenance of equipment, environment, construction and training. In conclusion, most clubs are looking for a qualified and experienced course manager who has a diverse range of skills and technical knowledge.


Key areas of responsibility

There are five key areas of responsibility for managing a golf course and a simple but effective structure for demonstrating this is the ‘steering wheel’ concept.  Around the outside of the wheel are the main categories of:

• Management

• Staff

• Budgets and finance

• Course condition

• Equipment

• Irrigation and compound.

At the hub of the wheel is communication and the essential link between each area of responsibility. Without effective communication, management structure would not function effectively, leading to confusion, poor performance and a waste of resources.


Actions required

Management: Most of the management skills required are in fact listed in the advert summary stated earlier in this article. What the employer is looking for is for the course manager to take control of managing the course, to lead, make decisions and be held accountable for his / her actions.  Good leaders have a clear vision of what they wish to achieve and remain focused in doing so. It is all about influencing others to achieve results. Staff members are a course manager’s most important asset and work is achieved through them. Within a typical club structure, the course manager is one of three, four or even five ‘heads’ of department; the others being the club or food and beverage manager, the head professional and perhaps a sales manager and hotel manager or leisure manager depending upon the size and type of property. All would be answerable to the general manager, managing director or possibly the owner if the club is relatively small.  With regards to forward planning, which is looking at planning in depth, it is a case of identifying, prioritising and then seeking approval for funding of projects that allow for continued improvement. In summary, the key tasks expected of a course manager are to plan, organise, motivate and control. It is also worth noting that when employees know the plan, they have a better understanding of what needs to be done and are more efficient.

Budgeting and finance:  With a budget being a plan for effective investment, the course manager will use the approved funds correctly to achieve the agreed goals and objectives. The budgeting process includes formulating a budget in line with the club’s direction, adhering to ordering procedures and then controlling all expenditures. The latter can be controlled electronically using a simple spreadsheet or manually in a ledger book. Other aspects will be agreeing terms with suppliers and good negotiating skills are required along with knowledge of the products on offer. With regards to capital expenditure, this will include equipment and any course projects that are deemed to be outside of normal maintenance. In periods of favourable economy, a typical capital budget will be between 10 and 15 per cent of the total value of the equipment fleet. Most clubs prefer to lease equipment over a period of, say five years, but there are many options available to help spread the large costs that are required. Some clubs may prefer to purchase outright so much will depend upon individual policies and requirements. Operational costs consist of labour and standard running costs which include materials, products, maintenance, hire, training and so on. Payroll costs are generally around 66 per cent or two thirds of the overall budget, with operational costs usually just below 30 per cent. Lease costs, if any, will vary somewhat and may have an impact on the overall make-up of the budget, but generally between three and 10 per cent would be expected.  Cash flow is another important aspect of finance and may determine when certain purchases are made.  Maintenance costs tend to be highest in spring for the season start-up and lowest in winter. A slight increase in autumn for renovation work will be offset for reduced costs in mid-summer when more of a routine is established. Public or daily fee courses will have greater income in summer and much less in winter whereas membership clubs have a more balanced revenue stream. Course closure through snow for any length of time will have a negative impact on revenue and as seen recently this past winter, will require more restrictions on expenditure to help balance the books.

Staff / labour:  For many course managers, growing grass is the easy part, dealing with people is the hard part. Man management is not taught at sports’ turf college but acquired from experience. Management is largely about working with people and probably the greatest challenge confronting the course manager is working with people.  When hiring staff, the most successful employees possess positive attitudes. Job descriptions need to be in place and staff retention should be just as important as recruitment.  Training is a key component and it is essential that all staff receive adequate training and that this is ‘logged’ to help career development. Supervision and forming good working relationships are essential to running a smooth operation. Staff appraisals are often neglected yet they play an important aspect of man management. It is important to give staff feedback and to let them know how they are doing.  Two-way discussion is vital and appraisals should be held annually with both self and course manager evaluation to help improve personal development and performance.

Equipment, irrigation and compound:  Clubs make significant investment in these areas, therefore a key requirement of a course manager is to have a working knowledge of all types of equipment and computer-operated irrigation systems. As well as the safe operation of all equipment, there is a need to set up inventories, service boards and maintenance records to ensure that servicing and repair work is ‘logged’ and that this and other data is used when estimating the appropriate time to replace equipment. Being able to locate and repair irrigation cables, pipes, sprinklers and so on will not only ensure optimum performance but help to reduce operating costs to a minimum.

Short training courses on fault finding are generally available and form part of the need for on-going training. Compounds should be regarded as turf care centres and managed as such.  They should be organised and tidy with all internal and external items stored safely and in compliance with current legislation.

Course condition and presentation: This is the most important aspect as far as the golfer is concerned and to some extent the area where the skill of the course managers comes under the greatest scrutiny throughout the year. For many it can be a daunting challenge since there are many factors beyond his / her control such as the weather.  Therefore it is all the more important that the other aspects of managing a golf course are in place and that there are clear policies and standards in place to ensure that available resources match club and customers’ expectations. The greatest emphasis is on playing quality, particularly greens, and as such there is a need to produce good quality putting surfaces on a daily basis without jeopardising long term objectives. Here the question of sustainability will be at the forefront and it is worth remembering that this is in fact a journey, not a fixed destination.

Presentation will play a key part and with it the cost: a simple example being the option of cross mowing a fairway to give a ‘chequered’ effect or more traditional ‘block’ mowing.

The former may be more popular with the golfers but a course manager’s responsibility will be to know the difference in costs in terms of fuel, labour and equipment wear. Whatever the type of course, it is becoming increasingly important to maintain courses in harmony within the existing environment and where possible, to provide wildlife ‘corridors’ for flora and fauna.

Communication: This sits at the hub of the steering wheel and is the link between people and activities, which is essential for any business to function. Good communication is important in becoming a competent course manager and the link between all aspects of responsibility. Employees also want a leader who leads and provides consistent communication, therefore being ‘open and transparent’ is paramount for the smooth running of the course. For general communication, a variety of techniques can be used to good effect such as the information board, newsletters and club websites. Personal presentations are also useful although many course managers may be reluctant to carry this through. Whatever the form of communication, it is important for the course manager to be proactive and to inform those around him / her of all that is relevant both on and off the course.

Working as a team

Having a good working relationship between the course manager and general manager will help the business run smoothly. For any team to be successful, everyone needs to be working for the same common goal. A good course manager can help achieve this in many ways, one of which can be to schedule work programmes around golf events as best as possible and without being detrimental to the longer term agronomic goals.  Coming up with ideas to reduce unnecessary expenditure will be a strong advantage and show both willingness and intuitiveness. Changing the mowing practice on fairways as mentioned earlier could be an example. Another could be delaying the hire of a summer casual by one month due to the lack of early season growth, which would also demonstrate good business acumen. It is also important for the course manager to have a say in setting policy and long term objectives, so being involved would be part of working together as a team.  Having good negotiating skills will also prove beneficial and a desired investment in a new rough mower may be more palatable to the club if part of the cost can be offset by reducing labour costs. The club has invested its belief in hiring a course manager and that loyalty should be repaid in the form of being both responsible and accountable.


Golf clubs expect the course manager to take control and make decisions to achieve the agreed objectives. This will require a good financial understanding of the business and what it entails. The course manager needs to be both a team player and a coach in order to get the best out of his / her team.  Having both practical and technical skills in golf course management are a pre-requisite for this position and essential for training other members of staff.  Effective communication and negotiation skills form an essential part of management, along with honesty, integrity and a sense of humour. The latter is important since not everything runs smoothly, nor is it always warm and sunny. No one ever said a course manager’s position is easy but if you have the will and dedication to succeed then objectives will be fulfilled and success will follow.

Laurence Pithie was Europe’s first ‘Master Greenkeeper’ and is now tasked by golf clubs to consult on improving their golf courses. Visit www.turfmasterone.co.uk for more information.

This article is based on the presentation given at a GCMA seminar at Harrogate Week 2011

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 13, 2011 16:11
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  1. Prateek August 27, 15:40

    Course managers are a blend of good and bad people!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Ron Rankin September 15, 17:55

    The role of the golf course manager has many parts to it. First and foremost is the ability to organize, maintain and employ the many resources needed for day to day operations. With this in mind the course manager must also be proactive in forward looking, they must work for today and look to the future.
    Course managers need to include all facets of operations (food services, retail, golf fees, playability, employees, etc…) in keeping the course running smoothly. This needs to be accomplished through continued communication and feedback, using new ideas and suggestions for keeping the course profitable.
    Clubs with members have the benefit of a constant money stream, but could lose members is the course is not kept in great condition. Course manager should insure he keeps members engaged in providing feedback for possible changes they would like to see. Also in what can be done to increase membership.
    Since growth of profit is the main goal everyone should be engaged in cost cutting ideas without losing the strength of the golf course. Each area of operations has someone who is the leader, so communicate with them constantly to find these ideas. Utilize all their strengths, while helping with any deficiencies. Try to make all the employees feel like they are the team, not just a part.

    Reply to this comment
  3. David Boyle May 6, 05:35

    I found this article informative, but vague because although there was a lot of good information to take away, I didn’t feel that all the information was particularly pertinent as we all know that good communication is key as it is to succeed in any aspect of life. A bit of specificity as to what forms of communication are uniquely important to a golf club may have provided some better insight. Such as, why the use of walkie talkies can help in expediting club efficiency.
    What was interesting was; the statistic information relative to capital budget allowance for club cost, and how environmental factors can influence a club’s revenue stream. One question that arose from this is, whether environmental closures can have as much detrimental effect on a membership club as it does with public courses that rely more primarily on foot traffic. This, it would seem, would require a hybrid budget. The budget would not only be based on capital availability, but also on geography. This article says that maintenance costs tend to be higher in the spring and lower in the winter. Geographic location dictates how much wear and damage the course and equipment receives from the environment throughout the year, and how heavily it can be reflected in the operational costs.
    The difference between a club manager and one of the employees is that the manager is responsible for knowing the standards and having the ability to train his staff to meet those standards. It is an employee’s responsibility to take the resources available to them to learn their craft in the department they specialize in. A manager must be a jack of all trades and have the skills to coordinate and disseminate tasks to not place too heavy a load on themselves or any one employee. They also need to find employees that can most effectively execute those tasks.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Robert G. Denny January 29, 00:22

    This was an interesting and
    informative article. Below is what I
    gleaned from the article.

    Golf course managers should have the skills required to take control and
    make sound decisions to achieve goals and objectives set by the manager himself
    and the golf course board of directors.
    The manager must have a sound financial background and know what the
    financial goals of the golf course are. The manger must work closely with his staff to
    ensure efficiency and effectiveness and be a team player and coach. Having golf course management knowledge and acumen
    is a requirement for this position and is essential for training subordinates
    in the organization. The manager must be
    well rounded having communication skills, negotiating skills, and social skills. Social skills are very important because
    things will not always run efficiently or as expected, so he needs to keep his
    composure. Being the manager of a golf
    course is no easy task, but if the manager has the desire and skill sets, he is
    set up for success.

    The golf course manager differs
    from the non-managerial staff in that the subordinates to the manager are expected
    to perform tasks within their specific jobs.
    The non-managerial staff are performing their duties under the
    supervision of the manager who gives guidance and expectations to the staff.

    Reply to this comment
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